Monday, March 29, 2010
Glory, Glory Hallelujah.... Welcome to the Future
When I moved back to Lima in 2004, I remember for about a year just trying to wrap my brain around being back "home". For those who don't know, us United Methodist ministers don't often get to end up anywhere near where we want to be, let alone the one place we pined for as we slogged our way up the ranks.
Never, at any time since I left Shawnee UMC v1.0 in 1997, did I really want to work or live anywhere else. Leaving Lima and this church pretty much tore a hole in my heart that never quite ever healed. As far as I'm concerned, while there are some pretty cool churches in this town, this was the only one that really interested me professionally. It's not perfect. We struggle sometimes to figure out where the Lord might be leading us. Sometimes people get upset and sometimes we disagree.... but warts and all somehow this church just keeps being special. It's a church that's occasionally willing to stick out its neck for the good of others and the Lord, and generally on the other side of the chaos, we stand more United and together than we did before.
Anyway, over the seven years I was off in Toledo, Bloomington, and Goshen, the desire to come back to Shawnee UMC and Lima only grew. Actually, in 2003 I started pursuing a return to Ohio and even interviewed at St. Michael of The Slaughter (or as it's known in the rest of the world, Ginghamsburg UMC). To be honest, coming out of that interview I thought I had that job in the bag, which only compounded my disappointment when six weeks later they told me they needed to take a pass but that they would, "keep my resume on file in case something else opened up".
I was crushed.
But you know, the Lord works in strange and mysterious ways. Had St. Mike bit on the hook, chances are six months later Joseph would have never called me about this opportunity and then I would have realized why St. Mike's sounded so great: it was a great church only 45 minutes from home. I guess the only thing better than being 45 minutes from where you want to be, is sitting in the office of the place of your dreams... which is where I am sitting today.
It's true. Sometimes the best answer to a prayer really is "no".
Anyhow, when I returned in 2004, not really guaranteed anything regarding the future (something Joseph reminded me of repeated, for better and for worse), when I came back I found a SUMC that wasn't romanticized like it had been in the seven years since I left. It was still great, but it's like when you were a kid and you remember the slide at the park being the highest slide in the world. Go back to that park and either the slide is gone (cause you're old) or its not what you built it up to be in your mind. It's not a million feet tall... just 8.
There was a little of that when I returned. So while it was nice to be back, I was immediately started making a list in my mind of things I thought would need to eventually change if I ever got the chance. Some things, like work environment for the staff (let's just say the environment when I left, which I loved, wasn't quite the environment I discovered when I returned... I am really proud of the progress we've made as a church in this area) I knew could be changed somewhat easily because mostly it was internal factors that controlled our results. Job descriptions, salary scales, a staff handbook, occasional meetings, outings, and a cool summer retreat have done a lot to make (not perfect, mind you, but improve) this a great place to work. But other goals that began to take shape were much more illusive and difficult to nail down because they couldn't be controlled internally. The work would have to be on the outside.... out there.... with folks who didn't know us, or maybe didn't have all that great a perception of us.
This weekend, after almost three years of work, I felt like the future I started to envision really took giant leaps forward in terms of taking shape.
First, if you haven't heard, Shawnee UMC is about to extend her footprint to the north. By this time next year we'll have a satellite campus functioning in Bath Township. This is an old dream, not a new one. It's a dream that came from a visit to the Montgomery Campus of Community Christian Church of Naperville, Illinois and then was re-ignited at St. Paul Chadwell in London when I saw something I thought could work in a setting like this one. Not to mention, the thought of starting a satellite has really blown the lid off of what we're thinking about doing here at the Mothership. "Impact Groups" (another dream), communicating in new ways (particularly visual ones), utilizing technology for teaching opportunities (how about Joseph Bishman or Julian Davies teaching a bible study from their homes for people in Shawnee).... it's forcing us to re-thing a lot of things, and that's exciting.
Second, if you weren't there last night at Lima Community Church of the Nazarene (or "The Naz" as we call it), you missed a miracle. Three years ago there were few, if any, real connections between suburban and urban churches in this community. Last night was incredible. The whole community felt comfortable enough with one another that a black gospel choir sang in a building used mainly by white suburbanites, listening to priests, preachers, and elders from every corner of this community...
and it felt, normal. Like we could do it every year.
I'm proud of the role this church has played in forging new partnerships, bring pastors to the table together, and creating common ground and the trust necessary to really tackle some terrifically difficult issues in our community. When I heard Doug Adams, long time Senior Pastor talk about how big that service was, that he'd never been part of anything like it in 25 years of living and working in the community.... when I hear Lamont Monfort marvel at the crowd gathered, and where they are gathered... when pastors like Mark Chambers, nestled safely in the suburbs, come to the table ready to reach out.... when Elder Fred Dunlap beseeches God in prayer for his help in the community cause we need it, and 1200 "Amen"....
Can't help it... makes me so happy thinking about the gathering last night I get all teary eyed. Probably why when I was listening to Brad Paisely's song today it made me cry. Got me when I heard the words, "Hey, wake up Martin Luther. Welcome to the future." Felt like after getting the call Bluelick was "in" on the merger in the afternoon, and then seeing the Senior Pastor of "The Naz" look out on the crowd in his church with what can only be described as wonder and amazement, that the future really is now.
And I sing, "Glory, Glory... Hallelujah!" Welcome to the future.